Women HRDs do critical work: Free Mahienour El-Massry


On 20 September, detained Egyptian lawyer Mahienour El-Massry may be released - or may remain imprisoned for her human rights work. The ongoing harassment and detention of women human rights defenders demands real action by national governments to recognise and respect their work and improve protection mechanisms.

(Geneva) - ISHR today lends its voice to the global call, initiated by Nazra for Feminist Studies, for the release, as soon as possible, of Egyptian women human rights defender Mahienour El-Massry and two other human rights activists.

‘ISHR and our partners have documented a longstanding and worrying trend in protection gaps for women human rights defenders. Arrest, detention, and prosecution, in Egypt as in other countries, are used to discourage dissent and suppress independent criticism of government policies,’ said Sarah M. Brooks, ISHR acting focal point on women defenders.

In Alexandria, Egypt on Sunday, 20 September, a court will review the case of Ms El-Massry and her colleagues, known as the ‘El Raml police station’ case. In May, the three defenders were sentenced to 15 months imprisonment and substantial fines for demanding due process and access to a detained activist held at the El Raml police station in March 2013. When police refused to share information about the case or permit entry to the station, El-Massry and her colleagues staged a sit-in.

Based on documents from defence lawyers, the court will consider whether to suspend the sentence. Although this could result in their release from prison, the charges will remain formally on their records, potentially imperiling future work in legal advocacy. For many women human rights defenders, detention and the stigma associated with it can also negatively impact their lives in other ways, for example deepening the disapproval or even hostility expressed by some members of women HRDs' families and communities. 

‘UN experts have raised particular concerns about women human rights defenders in Egypt before,’ said Ms Brooks, ‘but the response from the government was frankly underwhelming; its 200-odd words did not address the experts’ allegations of violence, including beatings in police custody, and failure to respect due process rights.’ 

‘States and other actors, especially in the MENA region, should call on Egypt to address these concerns and take steps toward improving the environment for human rights defenders and peaceful activism. This case is yet one more reminder of how important global collaboration is to advance protections for women HRDs, and underlines the urgency with which the UN Resolution on women human rights defenders, adopted in 2013, should be implemented,' Ms Brooks said.

For more information, please contact acting WHRD focal point Sarah M. Brooks at s.brooks@ishr.ch

More information about the work of Nazra for Feminist Studies to support WHRDs and advance women’s rights can be found at http://nazra.org/en.  


  • Middle East and North Africa
  • Women's rights and WHRD
  • Egypt